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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Please call an ecumenical council to discuss my book!

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 04, 2013

Well, stop the presses! An Australian prelate, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, has called for a new ecumenical council to address questions related to sexual abuse. It will take a worldwide council to get the job done, he said, because sweeping changes are needed.

This clarion call by Bishop Robinson reminds me that back in 2010, another Australian bishop called for an ecumenical council to address Church teachings on sexuality, offering the same line of reasoning: that sweeping changes were necessary.

Oh, wait. That wasn’t another Australian bishop. That was Bishop Robinson, too.

So how is he coming, with those plans for an ecumenical council? Not too well, I’m afraid. Bishop Robinson doesn’t actually pull much weight in the worldwide hierarchy. For one thing, he isn’t an active bishop. He resigned back in 2004. He wasn’t required to resign because of his age; he was only 66. His health was apparently not a major concern; he’s still going strong, nine years later. He just… resigned.

Not that he has been quiet in his retirement. Far from it. But there are problems with what Bishop Robinson says when he airs his views. In 2008 the Australian bishops’ conference took the rare step of warning about “doctrinal difficulties” in Robinson’s new book. Those problems, the Australian bishops said, included “among other things, the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church’s moral teaching." Even Cardinal Roger Mahony, not ordinarily considered a doctrinal hard-liner, barred Bishop Robinson from speaking in his Los Angeles archdiocese that year.

At this point you might be thinking that Bishop Robinson expounds exciting new theological ideas. Sorry to disappoint, but No. It’s generally the same old tired stuff, made familiar through years of dissent and popularized by scores of liberal Protestant pundits. Now he styles himself an expert on the sex-abuse question, but Bishop Robinson’s most distinctive contribution to that discussion has been the suggestion that priests who molested boys might not have realized that they were violating their vows of celibacy.

So it’s unlikely that other bishops around the world will take up Robinson’s call for a council. Surely he realizes that, too, 3 years after he first made the suggestion. Why, then, does he make the suggestion again? Let’s take another look at that Reuters story:

Robinson spoke at the launch of his new book For Christ's Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church ... for Good.

Aha! In 2010 he had just published a book about sexuality, and suggested an ecumenical council to discussion sexuality. Now he’s out with a book on sexual abuse, and wants a council to address sexual abuse. See a pattern here? Some authors are content with a book-signing reception; Bishop Robinson won’t be satisfied with any publicity event short of Vatican III.



Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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